Auburn didn’t just beat Tennessee. It manhandled Tennessee, and it dismantled the Vols in a variety of ways. Are you taking the Tigers seriously yet? I certainly hope so.
The sign of a quality team isn’t just how it handles quality opponents. Beating inferior competition—on the road in convincing fashion—can be equally revealing, especially over the course of a season where letdowns tend to creep into the equation.
After winning zero (not one) conference games in 2012, the Tigers are now 9-1 on the season with games against Georgia and Alabama on the horizon. They have avoided disappointment and done so with authority. With the win (and cover) against Tennessee, Auburn has now covered seven weeks in a row and eight out of 10 times this season.
Like everyone else, Vegas is struggling to assess this turnaround.
The Tigers handled Ole Miss, they conquered Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M and on Saturday beat Tennessee 55-23 in its own building, an environment that the Vols have thrived in this season. For proof of this, just ask South Carolina and Georgia.
Historically, Auburn scored more points against Tennessee than it ever has on Saturday. Even more impressive, the Tigers accomplished this feat when they returned the opening kickoff in the second half for a touchdown.
Auburn's 41 points are the most points in school history against Tennessee— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) November 9, 2013
Not bad with almost 30 minutes to spare.
Auburn would tack on two more touchdowns and the defense—which struggled early on, especially against the run—seemed to settle in.
Quarterback Nick Marshall completed only three passes, though this proved to be more than enough. Marshall finished with 214 yards rushing on only 14 carries.
Running back Tre Mason got in on the action as well, eclipsing the 100-yard mark yet again. In doing so, he went over 1,000 yards on the season. Mason also found the end zone three times, giving him seven scores over the past two games.
While the offense never stopped rolling, Auburn was also magnificent on special teams. On top of the kick return to start the second half, Chris Davis returned a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter that broke a 13-13 tie.
It wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill punt, either. He had to muff it first and then take it 85 yards. In a lot of ways, this play summed up the game perfectly.
Another week, another convincing Auburn victory. This kind of season wasn’t anticipated, but here it is. Even as Auburn adds to its budding resume week after week, there’s an assumption that somehow it’s too good to be true.
At this point, all notions of Auburn being overrated or over-ranked should be scrapped. Toss them out and start over. This isn’t a fluke, and it’s no longer Week 5. We’re getting closer to the finish line and the Tigers aren’t slowing up. They’re getting faster.
Auburn will enter Week 12 as a contender in the SEC and a likely candidate for a BCS bowl, perhaps through the conference but certainly as an at-large bid otherwise.
How the final two games transpire will certainly tie a bow on Gus Malzahn’s magnificent first season, but it’s clear that Auburn will be competitive with whomever they play. This, of course, includes Alabama, the team’s rival and final regular-season opponent of 2013.
Assumed to be an an easy Alabama victory at the start of the year, Auburn could present the biggest hurdle to the Tide by the time it’s all said and done. Alabama has struggled to contain athletic quarterbacks, and Nick Marshall is finding a dangerous rhythm on offense.
There will be time to assess Auburn’s chances once the game arrives, but Georgia will have to be dealt with first. Like everything else, the perception of this game has changed. It’s no longer a question of whether Auburn can hang with Georgia, but rather how the Bulldogs plan to deal with one of the nation’s hottest offenses and if they can put up a fight.
Perhaps Week 12 will be when Auburn finally sees its dream season come unraveled, although this talk of its luck running out hasn't let up for the past two months. Don't look now, but we're running out of weeks to doubt.